The Difficult Boss

The Difficult Boss

At one time I had a boss named Tom who operated his business on a continuous stream of crisis management. His modus operandi was stress and panic. He was quick to criticize, rare to praise, and was always on the look out for who to blame.

"Transform an apparent disadvantage into an opportunity."

The Difficult BossI wasn't enjoying the working there, it was not a fun place to be. I found myself being more stressed and spending more and more precious time and energy involved in gripe sessions with the other employees. It's like we were all comparing notes to makes sure we weren't insane.

After a few months on the job, I realized I was complaining about him almost daily to my husband. It seemed like every time I'd discuss work, it would begin with "guess what he did today!" At some point I asked myself, how can this situation be an opportunity? What possible good could come of this?

Then it hit me. This man pushed my buttons! Here I was talking about how no one can make you feel anything without your permission, yet I was thinking and speaking as if my boss was making me feel stressed, unappreciated and unhappy.

Ah ha! What an opportunity! This was an opportunity for me to really walk my talk. It was a change for me to identify and remove the buttons my boss was pushing. It was not only an opportunity to prove to myself it could be done, but if successful, I would be creating a better work environment for myself.

There was no way I would ever be able to change him or his behavior. It simply was not possible. If the situation, or my response to the situation to be more accurate, was to change, I would have to change myself.

The first thing I did was identify and describe the buttons (beliefs) he was pushing. What were the situations where I felt the most stressed? When did I feel the most unappreciated? When was I most unhappy at work?

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Using the Option Method, I was able to identify three core beliefs that were operating and contributing to my dismay. Those were....

If a boss approaches you with stress in their voice, and asks if you have something completed yet, that means that you're someone who can not be trusted to complete jobs on your own. And that translates into you being incompetent.

If you don't receive appreciation for your work (i.e.: no at-a-boys, good job, nice work, type comments) that means you're not doing a good job.

If a boss is stressed out, you too have to become stressed out to show him or her you care as much as he or she does.

I was able to re-examine those beliefs for accuracy and find out if they were really true.

1. To address the first belief, I needed some standard of measurement to determine if I was a good worker. So I asked myself, am I a trustworthy and competent worker? After a lot of soul searching, the answer came out to be Yes. Yes, I am skilled in what I do, I put out quality work quickly, and I meet deadlines. I also identified certain activities I procrastinated doing because I didn't enjoy doing them. I vowed to change those. But on the whole, I'm a responsible, trustworthy and competent worker.

So with this in mind, what did it mean when Tom became stressed and questioned my work? I determined that this was his way of dealing with responsibility and it had nothing to do with me and my work. He acted this way with everyone. His approach had everything to do with him, and nothing to do with me.

2. What about not receiving any praise? Did that necessarily mean I wasn't doing a good job? Again, I determined that someone could be doing good work and receive no acknowledgment for it. I concluded that if I wanted any praise, I was going to have to give it to myself.

3. Was it possible to care about your work and NOT be stressed out about it? Yes, that was not only possible, but doable. One could care yet not make themselves miserable when there were snags or difficulties. I did care but I didn't want to feel stress.

After going through this process of examining my beliefs, I realized that there was still some lingering doubts and fears. I was changing my beliefs which would change my responses and how I felt, but what about Tom? I wasn't changing him. He might interpret my not being stressed as a sign that I don't care about my work. What if he thinks all those things and fires me?!?

Did getting fired mean my work was bad? No. I had already established the value of my work. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find another job I liked as much or got paid as well. I concluded that that belief was not true. I COULD find another job that paid as much. And, if I was fired for not being stressed, that was actually a GOOD thing, cause I didn't want a job where I had to be stressed out to demonstrate my caring.

So with all these newly revised beliefs and fresh perspectives, I was actually eager to go to work and face Tom. It became a challenge I was excited about facing. So far, it had only been conceptual. Would I be able to pull it off when faced with reality?

By George, it worked! After a month or so, I completely changed my experience at the job. I won't kid you, it wasn't instantaneous. There were times I would react out of habit. But for the most part, my work environment changed enormously. I was no longer riddled with self doubt about my work, or stressed.

And there were some surprising manifestations to my new beliefs that I hadn't anticipated. Since his words and actions no longer meant anything about me, I was able to see him more clearly. I no longer felt disdain but compassion for him. He was so hard on myself, putting himself through so much angst. It wasn't pity, but more like a new connection with him because I could relate. He was doing the best he could. We ended up developing a friendship.

My co-workers noticed the difference as well. We use to joke around about "who's turn is it today?" meaning, who was going to be the one he picked on that day. Now they made comments like "he doesn't pick on you as much." I also think I was able to help them see that his comments said nothing about them, but more about his "style" of working and management.

What an opportunity this apparent disadvantage turned out to be.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2000, September 30). The Difficult Boss, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Last Updated: June 23, 2015

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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